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Translating Shakespeare for the theatre Translating Shakespeare for the theatre

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Translate Shakespeare for the theatre? The question is not purely rhetorical. In his Memoires, Jean Vilar, speaking of his work as an actor, raises the question of whether it is even possible to translate dramatic texts: Macbeth. Whilst learning my part alone at home in the morning, I keep on saying to myself , ‘Never again will I perform translated plays, not even those of Shakespeare.’ Translations either emasculate the original so that the actors may ‘utter’ a French which is straightforward, or at least authentic, or force us to chew up and spit out a stodgy French, weighed down by the burden of the English. My friend Curtis, the translator, can’t help it. Remaining faithful to the original text makes the French prose heavy, but to stray from the original is a crime. So what can we do? (131) This dilemma, so accurately put into words by Vilar, brings us to the question: when translating a Shakespeare play for performance, must we incorporate into our work aims which curtail the usual demands of translation? What is specific about translating for the theatre? Or rather, what demands must a French translation of a dramatic text meet if it is to make performance possible? Translate Shakespeare for the theatre? The question is not purely rhetorical. In his Memoires, Jean Vilar, speaking of his work as an actor, raises the question of whether it is even possible to translate dramatic texts: Macbeth. Whilst learning my part alone at home in the morning, I keep on saying to myself , ‘Never again will I perform translated plays, not even those of Shakespeare.’ Translations either emasculate the original so that the actors may ‘utter’ a French which is straightforward, or at least authentic, or force us to chew up and spit out a stodgy French, weighed down by the burden of the English. My friend Curtis, the translator, can’t help it. Remaining faithful to the original text makes the French prose heavy, but to stray from the original is a crime. So what can we do? (131) This dilemma, so accurately put into words by Vilar, brings us to the question: when translating a Shakespeare play for performance, must we incorporate into our work aims which curtail the usual demands of translation? What is specific about translating for the theatre? Or rather, what demands must a French translation of a dramatic text meet if it is to make performance possible?

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